“Australians have a great sense of fairness and when you do things like that we say ‘get on your bike, fella’ and get back out again. Don’t take advantage of us”. (David Koch to rioters at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre, 21 April, 2011)
The above comment by David Koch is interesting given they come from a person whose presence on the shores of Australia owes more than a little to Australia’s first refugees. If we measure the potential impact of refugees on the Australian way of life as we currently understand it, against the impact the original refugees to Australia had on the then Australian way of life, is it little wonder that Australian’s of today are so scared, to the point of xenophobia about more recent arrivals?
“The 7th of February, 1788, was the memorable day which established a regular form of Government on the coast of New South Wales. On a space previously cleared, the whole colony was assembled; the military drawn up, and under arms; the convicts stationed apart; and near the person of the Governor, those who were to hold the principal offices under him. The Royal Commission was then read by Mr. D. Collins, the Judge Advocate. By this instrument Arthur Phillip was constituted and appointed Captain General and Governor in Chief in and over the territory, called New South Wales; extending from the northern cape, or extremity of the coast, called Cape York, in the latitude of ten degrees, thirty-seven minutes south, to the southern extremity of the said territory of New South Wales, or South Cape, in the latitude of forty-three degrees, thirty-nine minutes south, and of all the country inland to the westward, as far as the one hundred and thirty-fifth degree of east longitude, reckoning from the meridian of Greenwich, including all the islands adjacent in the Pacific Ocean, within the latitudes aforesaid of 10°. 37′. south, and 43°. 39′. south, and of all towns, garrisons, castles, forts, and all other fortifications, or other military works which may be hereafter erected upon the said territory, or any of the said islands.” (Governor Phillip on the establishment of the first government for refugees in Australia)
For many thousands of years, prior to the arrival of Australia’s first refugees in 1788 the traditional owners of the land on which they arrived were the Cadigal. The Cadigal were a clan of 50-80 Aboriginal people whose land included Farm Cove (Woggan-ma-gule) and Sydney Cove (War-ran). The Cadigal were coastal people who were dependent on the harbour for providing most of their food. They were one of seven clans living in coastal Sydney who spoke a common language and have become known as the ‘Eora people’. ‘Eora’ simply means ‘people’ or ‘of this place’ in their language. Like Aboriginal people of all times and places, their identity, community, means of survival and spirituality were inseparable from their ancestral land.
On 26 January 1788, Australia’s first European refugees established a penal colony at Sydney Cove. They had sailed from Britain on 11 ships known as the First Fleet, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip.
By 1800, a mere 12 years after the arrival of Australia’s first refugees, the landscape and way of life of the Cadigal people had been changed forever. Birds such as the emu, magpie goose and brolga had gone from the swamps and forests at the head of the Tank Stream (near present-day Hyde Park). The Cabbage Tree Palms had disappeared because they proved to be an easy and accessible building material and food source for the refugees. Eventually the land of the Cadigal would be smothered in concrete and asphalt, while the Eora themselves were expelled from their own land.
At the head of Farm Cove was a Bora ceremonial ground named Yoo-lahng. The Cadigal held initiation ceremonies to mark the coming of age of the young men of the clan. The ceremony, known as Yoo-lahng Erah-ba-daling, involved the removal of a front tooth as a mark of manhood and the assumption of responsibilities as a hunter. The Dog Dance and the Kangaroo Dance were performed to impart to the young men the power over the hunting dogs and the power to kill the kangaroo.
Without knowledge of the Cadigal way of life and with a total disregard of the religious practices of the people of Sydney Cove the refugee population began depleting the fish in the harbour by netting huge catches, killing kangaroos and polluting the streams. The Cadigal people, the original Australians at the time of the arrival of the first European refugees at Sydney Cove were close to starvation.
Not only were the Cadigal denied access to the two main freshwater creeks of Cadi, but sometimes their tools and canoes were stolen by convicts or soldiers for souvenirs or to sell in Britain. Violence between Europeans and Aboriginal people started to escalate.
In April 1789, an outbreak of smallpox occurred at Sydney Cove and within three years it decimated the local Aboriginal population. Because of the loss of life associated with the introduction of smallpox by the European refugees, the Cadigal suffered social collapse, grief and bewilderment.
The destruction of the Australian way of life following the arrival of the first wave of refugees from Europe
In 1997, the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), issued a report known as Bringing them Home, which pointed out that the official treatment of Indigenous Australians throughout this century falls clearly within the terms of the UN definition of genocide, which includes the forced removal of children from their families with the express aim of the annihilation of a given ethnic, racial, religious or cultural identity. The HREOC report raises the relatively unexamined question of ‘cultural’ genocide, a form of state intervention into the lives of particular groups which was not clearly perceived as ‘violent’ and yet, can be said to have had and continues to have a form of genocidal effect. Indeed, at the time it was presented as promoting the ‘welfare’ of individual Aboriginal children, with the scattered voices of dissent only gradually gaining the upper hand. Only in the last few years has it become more widely recognized how destructive, damaging and essentially genocidal a policy it was, with this recognition has sparking a remarkable dispute about whether there is a need for an expression of some sort of ‘collective shame’. Some political leaders, state governments, religious bodies and citizen groups have issued apologies for the state – and church – sponsored forcible removal of indigenous children and the effect this has had on Aboriginal individuals and communities throughout Australia. Others, notably the former Prime Minister, John Howard, have continued an abiding tradition in Australian liberalism and expressed varying degrees of regret while at the same time complaining about being forced to dwell on the unpleasantries of the past.
The Stolen generations – a case of attempted genocide by the government for refugees?
The case of the ‘stolen generations’ of Aboriginal children has a number of important implications for the political and moral debates within Australian politics and society, including the question of collective shame and the relationship of present generations to events in the nation’s past. It constitutes, as Judith Brett suggests, “a direct challenge to Australians’ self-image” and “a blow to the moral self-confidence of modern Australia and its narrative of post-war progress” Robert Manne describes it as “the most important contemporary public issue of our time” in Australian social and political life. A key question is also whether ‘genocide’ is even an appropriate term to use, given that what was being aimed at was the elimination of a culture rather than actual human beings. Nonetheless, even if we do not agree with Raimond Gaita that “If sterilisation of a people counts as genocide, then in my judgement, so too does the forcible, brutal and relentless taking of a people’s children for the purpose of making that people extinct,” the minimum position we would still have to adopt is Brett’s, that we “… can reject the report’s case for genocide, arguing that the forcible removal of children from their parents…is not the same as mass murder, and still find that the government for refugees (the Australian government) has a serious case to answer”.
The current wave of refugees
Given the destruction the first wave of refugees brought to the then Australian way of life, is it any wonder that the descendants of those refugees would fear new comers? Perhaps the inmates at the Villawood Detention Centre should simply convene a new government for refugees, raise a foreign flag and claim the land for themselves. This type of government is most effective when coupled with biological warfare and the destruction of the population’s food supply, followed by the mass murder and rape of the survivors.
Bloody hell Kochie, pity my ancestors didn’t think of the idea of detention centres back in 1788. Then perhaps we would all be spared your drivel about “Australians have[ing] a great sense of fairness” which the decedents of the original refugees of 1788 don’t possess!